RALEIGH, N.C. -- A multi-housing property is like any new business. Which is why it makes sense not to take on unnecessary financial burdens, and to plan an enterprise that will be as efficient in its design, construction, and long- term operation as it possibly can.
Common-area laundry rooms cost substantially less to build, use dramatically less water and other natural resources, and significantly reduce capital requirements and ongoing maintenance costs. In addition, they appeal to the broadest possible segment of the renting public.
For in-apartment laundry facilities, the initial capital outlay for washers and dryers has to be taken into account, as well as the budget to maintain and replace them every five to seven years. The additional plumbing, venting, ducting, drainage, and electrical can easily end up costing several hundred dollars per unit, according to the Multi-Housing Laundry Association (MLA) -- and even more if you individually meter each apartment. If residents are to supply their own machines, there should be an additional budget for repairing moving damage in the halls or (possibly far worse) structural damage if a washer leaks or overflows.
Taken together, these costs add up to a significantly larger financial burden on an apartment property than common-area laundry rooms.
In a nationwide study conducted by an independent research firm for the MLA, apartment units with in-unit washers and dryers will use the equipment more than three times as often as similar units with access to common-area laundry rooms. In addition to saving gas, electricity, and sewage, the study found, on average, common-area laundry rooms save approximately 8,500 gallons of water per apartment per year. So if you have a 150-unit building, that's 1,275 million gallons.
This study was made in 1991. If it were conducted today, using the more efficient modern commercial washers that are available only for laundry room use, we would expect water savings at least 30 percent higher or about 11,000 gallons per apartment per year.
In 1993, a nationwide survey was conducted to test a specific premise: if renters are presented with the option of a high-quality, attractive common- area laundry facility, will they find it equally attractive or possibly even more attractive than in-unit laundry connections?
The survey was mailed to 5,535 renters in low, medium, and high rent multi- housing properties across the country whose building featured one or more laundry rooms with these specific characteristics:
No apartment could be more than 200 feet from the laundry room;
There could be no stairs between the apartments and laundry room;
The cost to wash and dry a load could be no greater than $1.00;
All facilities had to be well lit and safe;
All washers and dryers had to be maintained in good working order; and
Each common-area laundry room had to have at least three of the following amenities: a trash can, folding table, wash sink, chairs/seating, hanging rack and/or window.
Among key findings, the survey found that more than half of those responding actually prefer to use their common-area laundry facilities and would not pay more rent to have a washer and dryer in their apartment. In fact, more than a quarter said they would actually be deterred from renting apartments with in- unit hook-ups.
Whatever one's personal prejudices may be, it should be noted that only 11 percent of apartment residents have household incomes above $50,000, while 61 percent have household incomes less than $25,000. This reflects the renting population of the country as a whole, the majority of which are of moderate means. For them, the extra rent required by in-apartment laundry facilities where machines are supplied -- or the purchase of the machines themselves -- is a financial hardship.
A laundry room doesn't have to be an afterthought, hidden under the stairs or crammed in next to the furnace room. Properly designed and executed, common- area laundry rooms can be the kind of amenity that will help a property retain and attract residents, and remain profitable throughout its life.
For more information, contact the Multi-Housing Laundry Association at 800-380-3652 or 4101 Lake Boone Trail, Suite 201, Raleigh, NC.
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